In the debate over the surveillance of the world, tensions between nations around the world have flared up when it was revealed that the US and the UK are engaged in mass-surveillance operations on their enemies, their allies, and themselves. The conversation is often steered toward the largest revelations like Prism and Section 215 of the Patriot Act where the agencies defend the collection of metadata and not "full take" content.
However, hidden in the releases we have seen we have seen full take operations like the MUSCULAR program that was not collecting just metadata. The program copied all of the data it could, including the full contents of emails and Google and Yahoo chat services as it was synced between various Google and Yahoo datacenters.
Now Ryan Devereaux, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras have released new information about another full-take operation codenamed MYSTIC. This is where the NSA has apparently covertly implanted systems in multiple nations to perform full-take audio on all cellular communications in an entire nation. In the revealed slides the Bahamas and Afghanistan are named as the target nations under full-take audio surveillance.
The same program is doing metadata surveillance in Mexico, Kenya, the Philippines, and a 6th unnamed nation. It is odd that the NSA seems to be interested in full-take audio in the Bahamas, as there is virtually zero risk of terrorist activity from that region of the world.
The data picked up by MYSTIC is pooled into a 30-day log of all of the voice data by a database project called SOMALGET that allows the NSA (and allied with access) to quickly sift through and listen in to the audio data of anyone using the cellular networks in the nation. The documents claim that SOMALGET is recording up to 100 million call events per day.
The legal framework for these programs is shaky at best, because of the US 4th amendment protecting Americans from self-incrimination, which applies worldwide. So an American making a cellular phone call in the Bahamas would be subject to a long-term metadata pull and 30-day voice log of all of their calls. Americans have an expectation of privacy around the world for illegal surveillance of their communications. The American Civil Liberties Union has recently posted a comment on the issue, stating that courts are reversing their opinions on the matter, reducing the privacy rights of Americans travelling abroad.
With the exponential growth of storage capabilities, you have to wonder how long before worldwide full-take audio programs are feasible for the NSA and GCHQ and how they will be justified in deploying them against the whole world?